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When a fantasy scribe writes a sleeper and bust column, the sleepers usually outnumber the busts. There are several plausible reasons for this — sleepers are more fun to talk about; sleepers are great for marketing purposes; and sleepers probably won’t create an emotional backlash with readers. As my buddy Mike Salfino said many years ago, a lot of roto players don’t want the truth so much, they just want to feel good about their team and their players.
My value picks and sleeper names will have to wait for another day. Today’s assignment is a collection of players to fade, guys I’m unlikely to draft. This is basically the What’s Not In My Wallet trope. I’ve included a lot of big-name players, not because I’m looking to make a splash or stir up controversy, but rather because this list isn’t very helpful to you if I’m kicking dirt on mediocre commodities you didn’t want anyway. Let’s not opt for low-hanging fruit.
I never say never, but here are 10 players I don’t expect to draft in March. Share your respectful disagreement, and your own personal fades, in the comments below, or on Twitter: @scott_pianowski.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
This might feel like a cheat answer, since Kershaw is obviously dealing with shoulder issues and might not be ready by the opener. But his past glory and strong name-brand recognition probably ensures he won’t tumble completely in my drafts, and I refuse to be the Injury Optimist in the room.
When the reputation is this sturdy — Kershaw already has a Hall of Fame resume — it’s common to see someone heroically project a strong comeback, usually attached with some cutesy logic like “but he’s Clayton Kershaw!” But the bus eventually leaves town for just about everyone. Albert Pujols hasn’t had a pretty endgame. Hanley Ramirez was dumped from the Red Sox last year. Miguel Cabrera’s had the blues for his mid-30s seasons. I’ll need a better reason to buy in than “hey, this player used to be a god.”
The current ADPs from The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (a 21-league slow dance with concurrent slow drafts; basically the Fish Bowl of baseball) illustrate how market confidence remains strong in Kershaw. He’s still carrying an ADP of 52 in this pool, with a high draft slot of 28. We’re talking about a pitcher who’s already physically compromised, and averaging a modest 162 innings the last three years. That’s not worth one of my premium picks.
Takeaway: Injury Optimist Is Usually Not Your Friend
Chris Archer, SP, Pirates
I’ve always been a fan of Archer, an intelligent player with multiple plus pitches. His occasional announcing work is outstanding. Catch him on the right day, and you’ll wonder when a Cy Young season might pop up.
Alas, Archer has become the poster child for a pitcher who can’t seem to perform to his component stats. His front-door ERA has been higher than his peripheral-suggested ERA in five of the last six seasons; in the other year, it was basically a wash. We can’t concretely explain why Archer can’t seem to put it together, but entering his age-30 season, it’s time to accept that he is what he is.
Does he throw too many strikes? Will he never be able to put the homer issues behind him? Maybe we’ll never get an answer.
A full season in Pittsburgh will spark some market interest, not that Archer did much in his first 10 National League starts (4.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP). Smart fantasy owners can discover useful things when popping the hood on pitching stats, but sometimes you need to accept what’s on the sticker.
Takeaway: Occam’s Razor should be a part of your fantasy process— the simplest answer is often best.
Mallex Smith, OF, Mariners
The three true outcomes dominate baseball these days, and stolen bases are becoming an unquestioned afterthought. With that in mind, many fantasy owners are in a tizzy, wondering how they’ll survive in the rabbit column.
There’s one key point that’s often missed — if the player pool has fewer playable steals, we can compete in the category through a lower number.
Maybe your first hitter will be a primary stolen-base source — think Trea Turner. Perhaps you see Adalberto Mondesi as viable in the third round, or Jon Villar playable in the fifth round. Maybe you’ll land a bunch of affordable players who can mix pop and speed, the Kevin Pillar types. These are all reasonable stolen-base paths for me.
What I don’t want to do is pay an expectant price for someone who’s one needle-moving skill is running. Smith is one of those players, just outside the Top 100 in Industry ADP. Just what are you getting here, along with a reasonable 40 steals? He has no pop to speak of (.384 career slugging, two homers last year), will lag in RBIs. He’s a positive average man, but a .277 career average isn’t reason for a parade. Your goal should be to find the next cheap-speed guy, the next Smith.
Takeaway: Misunderstanding the stolen-base dynamic can get you in trouble
Vlad Guerrero Jr, 3B, Blue Jays
This fade is no fun, I get it. Guerrero demolished the Eastern League last year and is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. His dad, Vladimir Guerrero, was a fun player and a HOF producer. And with Guerrero held in the minors all of last season, there’s something of a delayed-reveal effect — the longer we wait for something, the more expectations often snowball into something ridiculous.
Guerrero turns 20 in a couple of weeks. The Jays will surely push him to the minors for a few weeks, do the service time dance. He’s never taken an at-bat in the majors. He’s a liability on defense, and despite his tender age, he’s already starting to carry extra pounds.
Guerrero isn’t merely a Shiny New Toy this year, he’s THE Shiny New Toy. He’s the fun pick, the plant-the-flag pick, the “be the first guy on your block” pick. His average ADP in TGFBI leagues is a late-third selection. Guerrero’s long-term potential forces fantasy owners to buy at the top of his range this year, and that’s something I’m unlikely to ever do, especially when you consider that he can’t even play a full season in Toronto. We’re not trying to market our teams. We’re not selling advertising space and season-ticket packages. We just want the numbers, and we want values. Guerrero is a little too buzzy to be on my 2019 rosters.
Takeaway: Buying the high end of a player’s range is dicey, especially one with zero MLB experience.
My friend, Andy Behrens disagrees…
Speed Round — Bonus Fades
Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies
It’s a loaded lineup but he’ll probably bat sixth or seventh. He’s a poor bet for runs scored, a silent fantasy killer.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
Another pitcher who commonly misses the ERA estimates. I love FIP and SiERA, but they’re not perfect — and they’re not what we use for 5×5 scoring. Strasburg is also a high-maintenance pitcher who is a near lock for eventual DL time.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians
He’s still a first-rounder to me, but the second-half fade pushes him off the 3-spot. And I want my first-round hitter to be surrounded by a loaded offense; the Cleveland lineup is embarrassingly top-heavy.
Jean Segura, SS, Phillies
The Phillies have a loaded lineup after the Bryce Harper signing, and it’s not clear who will bat where. Be careful with the table-setters in this lineup, because any of them could bat first, second, seventh, eighth, or ninth (depending on where the pitcher slots). Any rabbit in the NL who slots close to the pitcher takes a significant value hit — stolen bases aren’t a viable play when tied to a ready-to-bunt pitcher, and of course you lose all that fun volume that comes attached to a No. 1 or No. 2 slot.
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Braves
The league figured out some holes in his swing last year, now it’s time for Albies to adjust back. Another player who could be in danger of a poor NL batting slot.
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Free Agent
Most indicators moving in the wrong direction, walks becoming an issue, and relievers don’t always carry lengthy shelf-lives, especially power pitchers.